By Frank Barron
Shrek the Musical opens at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood starting July 12 for a three-week run. The stage show is based on the Oscar-winning animated Shrek feature, but the live production is a dazzling new take on the mega-popular Shrek movie franchise.
The show played Broadway for over a year, then toured London and several American cities, much to the delight of kids and adult audiences, since it is entertainment for all generations. Now Shrek, the product of DreamWorks Studios in Glendale, has come home to Southern California.
In a sort of “sneak” preview, some bits of the musical were introduced to the media at the Glendale headquarters for DreamWorks Animation. The CEO of DreamWorks Jeffrey Katzenberg greeted all with, “Welcome to the house that Shrek built. There is no more defining moment, story or character for us than Shrek.”
Shrek is a classic love story told in an unconventional way, with larger than life characters who have surprising layers to them. Maybe that’s why filmmaker Sam Mendes (American Beauty) suggested to Katzenberg that it would make a great stage musical. And he was right.
But DreamWorks Chief Creative Officer Bill Damaschke explained that transferring the film to the theatre was a complex venture, requiring an original score, and an adaptation of the screenplay that would work on stage.
“Although the movie had music in it, it was not a musical. So we had to come up with reasons for the actors to burst into song. When Fiona was in the tower, how did she feel all those years? How did the dragon feel? These are the things we learn in the musical through the songs,” Damaschke told us. “The language of film is through the close-up. The language of the musical is through the songs.”
Another thing the DreamWorks Theatricals production can be proud of is recreating all the storybook characters that populated the movie, such as the Gingerbread Man, “and we had to create a 40-foot dragon, among other props that would bring the fantasy story to life,” Damaschke said. “There were lots of challenges.”
Eric Petersen, who plays Shrek, was on hand and had the media mesmerized when he sang “Who I’d Be.” It was humorous as well as heartfelt, and just one of the great original songs from the musical.
It’s Petersen as the grumpy green ogre who goes on an incredible journey and meets his soul mate. And he said his goal is to make it ring true for the audience of kids and adults. “There are pop culture references and inside jokes for everyone to enjoy,” he said. But Petersen revealed the moment in the show he enjoys most is “when Donkey tells Shrek that he’s got to stop Fiona from getting married. And Shrek has that Graduate-type moment where he cries out ‘Stop the wedding!’ Then he sings ‘Big Bright Beautiful World,’ a very soft song that lets Fiona know that he loves her, and he’s ready to tear down the wall that he’s built up his whole life —just to be with her.” That’s a goosebump-moment for the audience “if I do my job right,” Petersen beamed.
Also at DreamWorks to describe the details that went into the musical production was Guillaume Aretos, the acclaimed production designer from the Shrek movies. He said, “On stage the poetry of the story takes over. You are in the world of the fairy tale.” He talked about the difference in working on colors, costumes and choreography, transferring the magic from film to stage. “The challenge in theater is that you have humans in costumes. That is way tougher [than animation]because they have to be alive at the end of the show.”
Petersen will be in a 45-pound green suit made of foam and latex, and there’s a lengthy makeup process before the show to turn him into the Shrek character based on the children’s story by William Steig. His book was about the adventures of an ill tempered ogre.
Now Shrek the Musical features book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire, with music by Olivier Award-winner Jeanine Tesori, and directed by Tony Award nominee Jason Moore. It is from Neal Street Productions and DreamWorks Theatricals, being DWA’s first venture into legitimate theater.
The wonderful swamp-dwelling ogre you’ll see at the Pantages Theatre, Petersen playing Shrek, said, “The music is spectacular. The ballads are great and the up-tempo stuff is fun. Shrek is definitely a grumpy green ogre with a Scottish accent, but he’s Cary Grant by the end of the show.”